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FX's 'Justified' Justifies Its Place on Annual Top 10 TV Lists... Including Mine
January 17, 2012  | By David Bianculli

How does FX's Justified follow a season where it served up one of the best season finales in TV history? By doubling down -- and tossing out weekly explosions, in the form of delightful and unexpected guest stars, while slowly setting the table for a season-long feast of continuing story lines and confrontations. What a start. What a show...

Season 3 of Justified, which premieres Tuesday night at 10 ET on FX, begins a few weeks after last year's phenomenal season finale ended. And I guess, before I proceed -- or before you do -- I ought to point out that If you haven't seen Season 2 yet, or bought the DVD set HERE, do it now, and don't read the rest of this column until you've caught up.

But you know what? If you haven't taken the time to watch and enjoy one of television's best current series, what the hell are you waiting for? And why is it my problem?

But I digress.


So last season ended with Margo Martindale as Mags Bennett -- a season-long guest role for which she deservedly won an Emmy -- cornered by Timothy Olyphant's Deputy U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens, and pouring him, and herself, a Mason jar of her homemade Apple Pie moonshine. We'd seen her offer such a libation before, in the season premiere, where the glass in which her moonshine was served was laced with poison.

This time, when Mags and Raylan drank, he was unaware that one of the drinks had been laced. Mags was very aware -- but instead of taking out Raylan, who was there to arrest her, she took her own life. What a fantastic ending -- so much so, that I completely forgot, until this new season began, that somewhere in there, at the end of that same season finale, Raylan had been shot.


As this new season begins, he's healing, physically -- and still as sarcastic and feisty mentally, and verbally, as when he was strung up like a pinata by Mags' son Dickie (Jeremy Davies from Lost).

Dickie is still around, though in prison, as this new season begins. Also still around is Ava (Joelle Carter), another shooting victim from last season, who has taken a more active interest, and role, in the schemes of Boyd Crowder -- Raylan's childhood friend and more recent occasional adversary, played so well by Walton Goggins.


Almost immediately in this new season, Raylan calls Boyd into the Marshal's office (see photo at top of this column) to interrogate him about Mags' missing money.

And Ava, Boyd's very significant other, has blossomed into a full-tilt partner, riding herd over Boyd's untrustworthy associates, who include Raylan's estranged father.

Quite a crowd.

But watch what happens, and who shows up, this season.

In Tuesday's season premiere, one of the new bad guys is played by Desmond Harrington.


His name might not be familiar, but his face is -- from another current quality TV series. He plays Quinn, the party-hearty Miami detective on Dexter.

Next week, one of the guest stars is Carla Gugino, who's already starred in one series inspired by the writings of Elmore Leonard -- ABC's Karen Sisco. And the week after that, we get introduced to yet another new character, played by Pruitt Taylor Vince, fresh from The Walking Dead.

(He's great -- and you can hear a sample of his byplay with Olyphant's Raylan HERE in my review of Justified, which ran Monday on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross.)

That's enough top talent to fill an entire TV season, and walk away with leftovers. But this year, Justified is using those fine actors, and wonderfully written characters, as appetizers.

The main course: Two actors brought over from NBC's Boomtown, which, not at all coincidentally, is one of the previous credits by Justified creator Graham Yost.


One of the actors Yost has plucked to enliven Season 3, and who shows up from the start, is Neal McDonough, playing Quarles, a bad guy from Detroit who dresses sharp, wields a cocky attitude and a large vocabulary, and always has something up his sleeve -- starting with a Wild Wild West-type hidden pistol.

Quarles is a fantastic character, so full of charisma and confidence that, in McDonough's hands, he dominates the screen. Except when Olyphant, as Raylan, finally meets him face to face. Then, they have a showdown worthy, in terms of underlying tension and equally matched adversaries, of Raylan and Mags -- and that occurs only a few episodes into the season, with a lot more to go.

Also occurring a few episodes into the season: Another Boomtown vet, Mykelti Williamson, playing a formidable Kentucky presence named Limehouse. He emerges as a threat from within, every bit as powerful and ruthless as Quarles' threat from without. And Limehouse, as a character, is captivating -- made even more so by two real-life observations.


One is that the character, and the whole idea of a sequestered African-American community hidden in the hollows of Kentucky, is based on fact, which makes the idea even richer.

The other is that Limehouse is played by Williamson -- and played so well, with such power and force and with such a convincing manner and accent, that it takes a long, long time to persuade yourself that yes, somehow, this indeed is the same actor who played Bubba in Forrest Gump.

Just one more surprise from Justified -- and one more reason to tune in, and stay tuned.




Jim Cullen said:

Sounds like they have a great crew lined up for Season 3. At this point does Elmore Leonard have anything substantial to do with the production?

[He's more involved than he was at the very start, that's for sure. They run ideas and stories by him -- and he's just come out with a book, Raylan, which he wouldn't have if not for being inspired to write a new novel because of Timothy Olyphant's portrayal. It was even Leonard's idea to put Olyphant's picture, in character as Raylan, on the cover. - DB]

Comment posted on January 17, 2012 1:35 PM

Sarah said:

Yea! Justified is back! If you can't tell I have watched from the beginning and really enjoy every second. I have to add that the more I watch Raylan the more I like him so much so that he just might be my favorite lawman (at least in this century). I am looking forward to the new bad guys and to see how they stack up against Mags who I admit may be the only character whose death made me smile. As for Raylan and Boyd they are my favorite, just coined, non-bromance twosome and I don't think they could exist without each other. With all that went on I too forgot Raylan was shot but I can't wait to watch and see what happens next!

[Keep letting us know what you think. This season looks like another brilliantly bumpy ride. - DB]

Comment posted on January 17, 2012 4:16 PM

Cathy said:

Olyphant and Goggins have more chemistry than most couples can only hope for. They put on an acting clinic every time they're on screen. Welcome back Justified.

Comment posted on January 18, 2012 7:59 AM

Elias said:

Nice! Thanks for over-all season rundown, as well as the specifics on the premiere. Love this show so much. One thing that is really intriguing me -- Anyone else see a parallel being drawn between Ava and Mags? I thought it started, ever so subtly, late in season two, and with Ava's scene in the kitchen in the premiere, it moved,if briefly, to the forefront. We saw where Mags ended up -- she was an old, embittered, and embattled matriarch of an giant (for Harlan County, at least) criminal Empire, having took over when her husband died. Now we have Ava, a young woman that has already been through much but proven time and again that she can handle herself (Shooting her husband, for starters, and the thing with Devil in the kitchen to cap it off). She's tough, capable, smart, and can be utterly ruthless -- just as Mags was. WE saw how Mags ended up, and through Ava, I think we're going to get a look on how she got started... Anyone else seeing this at all?? Anyway, looking forward to season three, where ever it takes us!

[Nice thoughts, Elias.... except for the blatant satellite-TV plugs I edited out. But stick to the content of the shows, and your observations are more than welcome here. I think, with Mags and Ava, you really are onto something. - DB]

Comment posted on January 20, 2012 11:37 AM

Ruick said:

I have always favored the acting and look of Timothy Olyphant and was originally unsure of Walton Goggins. The deeper the show delves into the dynamic between the two the more I know the casting director for this show did an excellent job. They are SOOO good together. Like two sides of the same coin, forever bound, useless without one another but never seeing the same thing. Now all the show has to do is a crossover and get Jeffrey Donovan in the same scene and I think I'd have a heart attack.

Comment posted on January 20, 2012 7:23 PM
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